June 5, 2013

Is MSNBC the place for opinion?

MSNBC president Phil Griffin generated plenty of media attention this week when he said, in a New York Times interview, that his channel was “not the place” for breaking news. “Our brand is not that.”

Griffin was responding to a significant decline in MSNBC’s ratings, which the Times reported was down 18% in prime time in the second quarter of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. In May 2013, MSNBC—which often has the second highest cable news ratings behind the Fox News Channel—fell to fourth place, trailing even HLN, which was once known as CNN Headline News.

One theory for its current ratings woes is that the recent spate of big breaking news events— such as the Boston Marathon bombing, the Oklahoma tornados and the Jodi Arias trial—does not play to the strengths of a channel better known for opinion than newsgathering. The channel’s marketing slogan, “The Place for Politics,” fits with its prime-time lineup heavy on liberal-leaning commentary.

A Pew Research analysis of news content on the three major cable channels conducted late last year   found that the highly competitive world of cable news is a mix of reporting and opinion, with a good deal of the latter, particularly in prime time. But the analysis of 108 hours of cable programming over three days in November and December 2012 showed that MSNBC was an outlier compared with its rivals.

6-5-2013 12-03-43 PM

In the Pew Research sample, two of the three major cable news channels had a fairly even distribution of airtime devoted to opinion and to newsgathering. CNN was the only one to feature more reporting (54%) than opinion (46%) overall. At the Fox News Channel, the split leaned toward moderately more opinion (55%) than reporting (45%).

On MSNBC, however, the mix of news and commentary skewed heavily in one direction. Fully 85% of the channel’s airtime in the period studied was devoted to opinion. Only 15% of its programming was filled with reporting.  And the time of day really didn’t matter. The percentage of MSNBC airtime devoted to opinion was more than 80% in the morning (6-10 a.m.), mid-day (12-3 p.m.) and evening (6-10 p.m.)

The Pew Research analysis offers a snapshot of cable content, but the reporting/opinion gap between MSNBC and its two top competitors is striking. And the numbers buttress Griffin’s acknowledgement that covering breaking news is not his channel’s sweet spot.

Topics: News Sources, News Media Trends, News Content Analysis, State of the News Media

  1. Photo of Mark Jurkowitz

    is Associate Director at the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.


  1. Carla McNeal1 year ago

    You folks who are for Bernie are wrong. Bernie first of all is not a Democrat. He will not help to keep the legacy and achievements alive for President Obama. The man is a socialist . He is lost when it comes to foreign policy. He is lost on how to handle the banks. He is lost on thinking he is going to grab Hillary’s delegates he knew this from the get go how it works, now he thinks he can steal super delagates. He knows that this is his last chance because he is 74 years old. I am praying that Hillary wins because she take back the crime bill and she has the experience to make lives in America better for all of us, Revolution is a term that can be re solved by Hillary too. Bernie is not doing anything new, he is telling you nothing new.

  2. Louis Grandada2 years ago

    The Fox News anchors may have conservative opinions, but the other side’s views are always represented either through guests on the shows or by liberals who work there. I have seen everyone from Al Sharpton to Bill Ayers giving their opinions on Fox News. Juan Williams is constantly on Fox defending Obama. Megyn Kelly grills whoever is on her show, democrat or republican. Anchors criticize Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, basically anyone that they feel is wrong about anything. MSNBC is selective reporting with an agenda. The other sides views are rarely represented. If you ask anyone on Fox who the enemy is most would reply Islamic Terrorists (Two words that have never been uttered in that sequence on MSNBC). The enemy of the MSNBC staff are other Americans with different views.

  3. Rev. Dr. Frank Trotter2 years ago

    To whom it concerns:

    MSNBC hosts air a lot of opinions, most of them obliquely, as I see it.

    In particular, I feel that the hosts are strongly biased in favor of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and against Hillary Clinton’s…and that this bias is manifested subtly through the hosts’ dramatic vocal delivery with stories about Sanders… Clinton’s coverage gets a must more ho-hum delivery…

    Sanders also is interviewed live on several of your shows… I’ve never seen Clinton invited to speak like Sanders is… Tonight on “All In with Chris Hayes”, Sanders is invited to comment on polls which he does… Is Clinton? Not a chance…

    I expect fair and balanced coverage of progressive candidates, which I consider both of them to be… MSNBC is not providing it.

    Thank you.

    Frank Trotter
    United Methodist clergy, retired
    Towson, Maryland

    1. Edna2 years ago

      You are correct and in fact I use to watch MSNBC for my first choice, but I am sick and tired of their bias against Hillary

  4. john2 years ago

    Fox has NEWS??????

  5. David J Gill3 years ago

    This looks like one of the objective studies that report facts but miss the truth.

    What is Factual Reporting? Is factual reporting objective, is it relevant, is it the whole story? CCTV News and RT News offer a lot of factual reporting, but what they choose to report or not report makes their bias clear, but if you don’t pay attention closely you may not pick up on how biased they really are. A network can be all factual reporting and still be utterly misleading and biased.

    The same is true Commentary/Opinion. MSNBC offers analysis, commentary and opinion based on FACTS and accurate reporting. FOX does not. FOX is retraining Americans to think that all opinion is of equal value. It’s just not.

    That’s my fact based opinion.

    1. Christopher2 years ago

      Unfortunately, MSNBC does not fare much better in terms of being factual.


      While Fox News is dishonest 60% of the time, MSNBC is only dishonest 48% of the time. Just shy of half. Whoopee, 20% less dishonest!

  6. The Watch3 years ago

    MSNBC is clear about being the “Place for Politics” instead of news where Fox “News” falsely labels and identify themselves as being “news” when in reality it’s news with doses of their spin interrupting throughout.

    1. chuck l3 years ago

      Spin on the news falls under the category of “Opinion”
      Factual news story does not involve opinion.

  7. John3 years ago

    So I suppose that political and news analysis is opinion. It’s not made clear what the definition of opinion is here. But when I watch the MSNBC primetime lineup, Hayes, Maddow, and O’Donnell, they basically analyze the days top stories or current events. If news is defined as reporting that the stock market went up or down, what the time is, or temperature, or the score of a football game, well then yeah. What I want to discern is if the opinion is based on facts and critical thinking. This summary of the Pew Research analysis of news content is rather superficial.

  8. John3 years ago

    Care to share where any of your information comes from, I’d be interested to see your sources 🙂

  9. Mary Lou Mawson3 years ago

    The reason MSNBC does not cover breaking news is crystal clear. It is because they have to wait to get their spin from the Democrat Party. This is not a news channel. It is pure propaganda, designed to advance the liberal agenda in the public dialogue. Pundits on MSNBC are not political analysts. They merely repeat the lies told by Democrat politicians, and try to disguise them as “news.” Additionally, they “push” talking points that have been approved by Democrats, in order to frame a discussion designed to distract the public from what is the real news of the day. Anyone who relies on MSNBC for their opinions has been woefully misinformed. Examples abound, but just for instance : The Republican “War on Women.” There is no Republican war on women, it is merely the Democrats’ framing of the opposition to the mandate in the ACA that requires all insurance to cover abortions. Or how about the “science is settled” meme? And the idea that Republicans are “anti-science.” Science is never settled, Einstein proved that. A recent study showed Fox news viewers were MORE informed about matters of science than the general public. But the lemmings in MSNBC small audience believe this stuff because they saw it on the “news.”

    1. Diane Kool2 years ago

      Typical right wing projection. MSNBC does not promote itself as news. Its mottos are ‘place for politics’ and ‘lean forward’. Thus it promotes itself as liberal political commentary and delivers such.

      OTOH, Fox presents itself as a news channel and ‘fair and balanced’, while delivering daily news laced with right wing propaganda, which is easily debunked by fact checking.

      1. wyleehokie2 years ago

        But the analysis of 108 hours of cable programming over three days in November and December 2012 showed that MSNBC was an outlier compared with its rivals.


    2. Cindy2 years ago

      Thank you, Maryl ou

  10. Allen3 years ago

    If you put together the fact that 85 % of MSNBC is opinion, with the fact that they are extremists of the left , and then you see their terrible ratings, what does that tell you about ordinary Americans who watch news channels?

  11. Richard Davis4 years ago

    I just saw this chart posted in a Facebook comment on an unrelated topic, but giving reference to Fox News as an unreliable source.

    The poster who posted just before this comment indicated she’d like to see some follow-up on this report. I second that request. I’d also like to learn how such a small sample – 3 separate days over a news cycle epoch that was not indicated – can serve as any kind of general trend for determining average time spent reporting versus time spent on editorial comment.

  12. Elaine Runyon4 years ago

    I’d like to see a refresh on this study when it can have greater behavioral impact, for example at the height of the mid-term election cycle (2014). Personally, I was watching MSNBC in the mornings and Fox News in the evening – ostensibly for the balance. Ultimately, I was turned off by Joe (of Morning Joe fame) regularly patronizing Mika B. At the same time, I was disappointed by MSNBC’s failure to report on important events … omissions can be as biased as what does get discussed. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to watch Fox that early in the morning because they only seem to hire a certain look for their female anchors that is transparently marketing to a target audience that needs eye candy with its news in order to pay attention. Note, the type of ads shown by Fox underscore their target audience. Despite the annoying marketing schemes, I do watch Brett Baier’s show for content. Our household aligns most closely with Charles Krauthammer; although if given the chance, would I encourage him to show restraint from using excessive adjectives and adverbs. With his knowledge and reasoning skills, those inflammatory devices only detract from his message.

    1. Jay Ellington4 years ago

      Brett Baier is a beacon of journalistic integrity.

      1. chuck l3 years ago

        Don’t leave out Shep Smith

  13. Daniel Smith4 years ago

    Actually…. if these other two ‘news’ outlets are so accurate and unbiased, even if it is opinion, then why did they report for a full three days on the events in Benghazi and then drop it. Only Fox continues to report on the inquiry that is ongoing with that botched and fatal operation.
    CNN (communist news network) is in my view the most slanted and opinionated news network out there. I do feel that Fox is definitely slanted towards conservatism and embellishes stories that slam the liberals.But there are many ways to ‘slant’ your reporting. CNN seems to miss a report on a democrat that writes bad checks, cheats on their taxes, or lies under oath in a courtroom. But if a republican sneezes on someone in a crowd…. it’s headlines.

  14. Buck Eichler4 years ago

    I don’t think this research makes a distinction between opinion and analysis over simplistic reporting of events.
    I consider MSNBC to be very strong in analysis. Yes, there are certainly opinions presented, but there is a lot of devotion to the “back story” among analysts like Rachael Maddow et al.

    1. Daryl Knight3 years ago

      Most of what is passed off as analysis on ALL networks is properly categorized as opinion as it is almost always from the analysts perspective NOT factual.

  15. Carol Nicolay4 years ago

    I agree with you analysis, except that I think CNN is more like Fox News with 55% opinion. I watch all three often and CNN is more liberal than conservative. Witness how Ms. Crowley berates all conservatives.

  16. Pete4 years ago

    MSNBC is an official propaganda organ of the Obama administration

  17. gerry hall4 years ago


  18. Gloria Woods4 years ago

    I like MSNBC and trust its fact-checking, as it has consistently been on target. Most of the shows I consistently watch are opinion shows , but I like that they are grounded in fact (even science!) and don’t try to make speculation into more, with the exception of Morning Joe, which doesn’t mind leaping to a conclusion if it supports Joe Scarborough’s conservative perspective. Since I am a progressive feminist, the outlook aligns with mine. I consistently watch Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes. I also watch Politics Nation with Al Sharpton because he covers stories I don’t see elsewhere (until he covers them first) like the Trayvon Martin killing and the Stop and Frisk policy in NYC. I also really like the morning weekend programs with Melissa Harris-Perry and (now) Steve Kornacki.

    1. chuck l3 years ago

      I lost faith in MSNBC a few years ago.
      I loved Rachel, Intelligent and she dug in and researched her facts, Or so I thought.
      She covered 3 stories that were local to me, Her facts were very selective, to say the least.
      Rachels facts consist of what backs up her statements, those that do not fit the narrative are left on the cutting room floor.

  19. Laura4 years ago

    I stopped watching MSNBC long time ago. I want impartial news, not slanted to advance the ideological program of the Left – MSNBC reminds me too much of the news agency, Pravda. I can think for myself! I had enough of Pravda and the folks behind it, and I had enough of MSNBC.

  20. Joseph Goldman4 years ago

    My initial affiliation with the Republican Party ended when the Taft Republicans (aka the Daft Republicans) appointed Earl Warren SCOTUS Chief Justice to keep him from running for President. With perhaps President Eisenhower as a close second, CJ Warren may have been the last true fiscally responsible Republican statesman, placing country above politics and profit. Consider the facts of the changes in our National Debt, and consider the charitable and statesmanship activity of past presidents.
    My scientific colleagues worldwide pointed out to me the obvious difference and wondered why any intelligent, informed American would vote Republican. I guess the two adjectives may be the answer. The media have kept us largely uninformed, and the extremist factions are focused on controlling our education to keep us as un-intelligent as possible.
    If we are to progress toward a sustainably improving existence on this planet, we must become the intelligent and informed voting citizenry that President Madison asserted is required for our democratic (i.e. Constitutional Republic) form of government.

    1. Daryl Knight3 years ago

      Amen! The fact that we have become uninformed and are feeding on opinion masquerading as fact is exactly why we are in the mess we are in. It is precisely the reason Mr. Franklin stated that we had been given a “…republic, if you can keep it.” All of our founding fathers expected us to remain informed, vigilantly proactive and not afraid of vigorous debate from ALL sides of the issues. Instead we have couch potatoes listening to the talking heads who confirm their biases and resist putting out any real effort to inform themselves. This is why we have not kept the republic very well.

  21. Bill Achenbach4 years ago

    But who watches MSNBC! NO ONE

    1. andy4 years ago

      So it just has more talk shows? I hardly say that such a horrible thing. MSNBC might be be the most bias but foxnews still has mores misinformed viewers both are horrible.

  22. Pherrel Bowen4 years ago

    Not only is MSNBC mostly opinion, but it is all slanted (you might say “leaning”) to the left. There is no counter balance. I used to watch Morning Joe because of the incite provided by some of the discussions, but since Joe Scarborough is truly no longer a conservative, it’s just not watchable. The other thing that has hurt the ratings for MSNBC is the continuous snarky, contemptuous and elite attitudes of most of their anchors: Mika, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Larry O’Donnell to name just a few. They are compelled to show their superiority in their words and actions. Can’t take it any more. Would rather watch Jane Velez Mitchell or Fox than these self righteous jerks.

  23. Herbert J Gans4 years ago

    The reporting/opinion dichotomy is a bit too simple, for most of the time MSNBC news programs are the journalistic equivalent of academic seminars, with a mix of news, other information,analysis and opinion, similar to what NPR has long done,and a refined version of what the networks do on Sunday morning.

    That format, and the larger genre deserves further discussion, and maybe even some research to learn what the audience thinks and whether it learns more or less from it than from “reporting.”

    1. Joseph Goldman4 years ago

      I would like to see a comparison of the fact checking on each of the so-called reporting as well as of the opinion shows. I notice that Rachel Maddow almost always asks her invited expertise, if she properly represented the facts in her introduction of the subject matter, clearly an effort to get at the truth. At the times I was asked to review facts on the O’Reilly or Hannity shows, I had not witnessed such requests for factual verification, instead I observed disagreement 0f presented facts and in some cases, especially by O’Reilly, actual brow beating of their invited experts to conform with the host’s asserted beliefs or his “common sense.”

    2. Carlos Sanchez4 years ago

      That’s a good point that reporting vs. opinion is a bit too simplistic. The long version info-story, with NPR as an example, is apparent on some MSNBC shows like Maddow, and is informative to me. Story background/history and potential impact are not as apparent on CNN and Fox. MSNBC’s problem is too many commercials and teasers that has me channel surfing and finally turning it off after I get the gist of the news.

  24. Aly G4 years ago

    I personally like MSNBC becuase I am a liberal, however, since Dyland Ratigan and Keith Olberman left the show, the only anchors I wathc is Ed and Rachel. MHP and the Last Word are ok.